Freedom of Information requests by the Scottish Conservatives revealed more than 500 youngsters between the ages of two and four have been seen by health boards’ weight management services since 2014/15.
The statistics come on the back of reported links between ultra-processed foods and increase risk of cancer and show that between 2014-2017, health boards saw at least 5,129 weight management referrals for under-18s.
Leading cancer charities were quick to highlight the need for more to be done to tackle obsesity.
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert, based at the University of Stirling, said: “These new figures provide further evidence of how serious the issue of obesity has become in Scotland today.
“Almost a quarter of children are already overweight or obese when they start school. Unless we do more to address this, we’re storing up problems for the future. An obese child is five times more likely to be an obese adult which puts them at greater risk of 13 types of cancer.
“That’s why prevention needs to be at the heart of Scotland’s new diet and obesity strategy. A good start to changing children’s food environment would be regulation to restrict multi-buy offers on junk food.”
The Scottish Government has been consulting on proposals for improving diet and weight in Scotland.
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “We put forward a bold package of measures in our draft diet and healthy weight strategy to help everyone make positive choices, empower personal change, and makes Scotland a healthier place to live. The strategy includes world-leading proposals to restrict the marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar.
“Now that the strategy consultation has closed, we will continue to lead the consensus across the political spectrum as we set out our next steps. As was the case with tobacco and minimum unit pricing for alcohol, when Parliament unites around a common purpose we can make a real and lasting change to the health of our nation.”
Some health boards were unable to provide data, therefore the figures are likely to be higher. In addition, more than 60,000 adults were referred over the three-year period.
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “Obesity is going to be one of the great public health challenges of our time. These figures show tens of thousands of people – even children as young as two – are being referred to specialists.
“If we don’t take steps to tackle this problem now, the consequences for both the health of our population and the future strain on the NHS will be severe.
“The Scottish Government’s consultation on obesity has now closed, and it’s essential that – at the other end of this process – we have a meaningful strategy to improve diets and healthy lifestyles.
“It’s not all about what the NHS and government do – there has to be an element of personal responsibility too – but from a health policy perspective, we cannot afford to get this wrong. It is also vital that we see cross-portfolio working on this from SNP ministers as many of the changes and interventions will need to be educational as well as health-related.”